By Rick Shrum, Business reporter
FEBRUARY 23, 2015 – The intent of Rebecca Plute’s business model is to be a paragon of concierge medicine.
“The heart of good medicine is care,” she said. “I think the key to concierge medicine is the personal relationship between doctor and patient.”
Plute, a family care physician, recently struck out on her own to provide that. She launched Paragon Personal HealthCare in Canonsburg, inside the Jeffreys Pharmacy building at 1 N. Central Ave.
It is the first concierge family practice in Washington County, Plute said.
For an annual fee, Paragon offers patients convenience and flexibility they may not get in many other medical venues: ability to schedule appointments more quickly and outside traditional office hours, be seen on time by the doctor and have direct cell phone access to her 24/7/365.
And clients won’t necessarily have to go to Plute’s office. Like the traditional country doctor of yore, she will make house calls.
That patient fee, which varies by age, covers all visits to Paragon without involving insurance providers. But don’t drop your provider, which will oversee medical services rendered and expenses incurred outside of Paragon.
A concierge doctor benefits as well, by having fewer non-medical hassles and more quality time with patients.
“In less than 10 years,” Plute said, “the equation has gone from 70 percent patient care and 30 percent paperwork, to 70 percent documentation and 30 percent care.
“The doctor-patient relationship that is so important doesn’t work if the doctor is tired and doing too much paperwork.”
Her new practice is a modest endeavor with modest visibility – for now. Paragon’s signage is limited to a flashing message board outside the pharmacy. Plute leases from Jeffreys, and her business – in Suite 400 – consists of a reception area, adjacent exam/consultation room, plus two second-floor offices. The first-floor spaces were built along with a decorative indoor pond.
“I think the paint’s dry,” Plute quipped.
There are three access points: through the pharmacy, and at the side and rear of the building. Office manager Jill DeMarino is the only other person on the payroll.
Though Paragon is a new initiative for Plute, medicine is not. She has been a doctor for 17-plus years and has been on staff at Washington Hospital since 2001. Plute also worked at Centerville Clinics’ Washington and Carmichaels offices from 2001 to Jan. 31, when she left to start her concierge business. She met with her first Paragon patient Feb. 9,
Her primary goals at Paragon are “to build a healthy practice of a few hundred patients” and establish a community education program.
“We did a diabetes presentation two weeks ago,” she said.
Plute also has scheduled two Alzheimer’s sessions in the conference room outside her offices: March 3 at 6 p.m. and March 6 at 1 p.m. And every Tuesday in March, from 4 to 6 p.m., she will host a public meet-and-greet where anyone may ask questions.
Though in its infancy, the practice has been growing to Plute’s satisfaction. She wants to add an average of one patient per day, and during an interview last Monday, said five had come on board the first week.
“So we’re where we want to be.”
Would-be clients have an opportunity to “try out” her practice by participating in a telephone interview with her or coming to her offices for a face-to-face.
“They’re not obligated to connect.”
Paragon appears to be in a favorable location, just off Pike Street, the main artery of the Canonsburg business district, and inside a well-recognized business. Bustling Southpointe and Interstate 79 are in close proximity and Route 19 is a few miles east.
For Plute, this also is close to home on all counts. She was born in Washington Hospital and grew up in the Canonsburg area, part of a massive family.
“My grandfather and brother each had seven kids. Plute is a pretty common name around here.”
So common, she said, that from 1964 through 2008, at least one Plute was enrolled at Canon-McMillan High School. Her father started that 44-year run.
Now the doctor is following a tradition. She and her husband, Michael Wudkwych, have seven children and live in Cecil Township – Big Mac country.
Plute has lived mostly in Southwestern Pennsylvania, but prepared for her career elsewhere in the Keystone State. She got her bachelor’s at Penn State, medical degree at Medical College of Pennsylvania (in Philadelphia), interned at Easton General Hospital and was a family practice resident in Allentown.
Now, in addition to being a hospital physician, she is practicing concierge medicine, a dynamic she said is “growing rapidly,” especially in Philadelphia, Seattle and Colorado.
“Five percent of primary care physicians are doing this,” Plute said.
Western Pennsylvania, she lamented, “is one of the slowest growing areas.” She knows of a few Allegheny County doctors practicing concierge care, including Pete Grondziowski of Upper St. Clair and Joel Warshaw of Bethel Park.
Plute acknowledged that “15 years ago, this was something envisioned only for the very wealthy and privileged,” but said that isn’t the case – despite what concierge members have to pay on top of conventional health coverage. She also discounted the public perception that this is a “get-rich-quick” ploy by physicians, who “are paid about the same” as peers not practicing concierge.
“For most concierge physicians, this is more like the medicine they want to practice.”
And what some patients want to receive.
For more information on membership rates and other practice-related matters, visit www.paragonpersonalhealthcare.com.